L.A. Creates Health Commission, Avoiding Ballot Initiative

Public health policies such as about smoking could soon be reviewed by the city's new commission.
Public health policies such as about smoking could soon be reviewed by the city's new commission. | Photo: acidpix/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The City Council agreed on Tuesday to create a commission to examine the health needs of the city and the county's handling of public health issues, preempting the need for a multimillion-dollar election.

The 15-member commission will make annual recommendations on health issues and monitor Los Angeles County Department of Public Health policies.

The panel is the result of a petition drive by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has been pressing for the city to establish its own health department. AHF originally sponsored a ballot initiative calling for the creation of a city health department, but the city and county sued to have the issue pulled from the ballot. That prompted AHF to bring a compromise initiative calling instead for the formation of the health commission.

With the City Clerk's Office certifying the petition signatures on the compromise initiative, the City Council had the option of either creating the commission or placing the issue on the ballot.

Holding a special election would have cost $5.5 million, while consolidating the election with the Nov. 4 statewide general election would have cost $4.4 million, city officials said.

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The commission will operate "indefinitely," although the council could amend the ordinance at a later date, according to the City Attorney's Office. City officials have yet to estimate the cost of creating the panel.

If the panel finds that the health services provided by the county are lacking, the city could look at setting up its own health department, officials said.

AHF President Michael Weinstein called the council's vote "historic," saying the city is "taking charge of its health services and moving to control its own destiny with regard to the health and welfare of its citizens through the creation of this L.A. City Health Commission."

"For many, the status quo was simply not working," he said. "Today, there is a new day dawning in the city and county of Los Angeles. This could and should be a partnership that improves health outcomes while better targeting and deploying health services to city residents."

AHF officials have said the county Department of Public Health is stretched too thin to adequately serve Los Angeles residents. City officials, however, have said creating an independent health department would endanger public health and prove too costly for the city.

Los Angeles had a public health department until 1964, when its duties were transferred to the county.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation was behind a 2012 effort in which city voters approved a measure to require condom use in adult films.

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